Hornbill Unleashed

April 20, 2009

Towards A post-Taib Era in Sarawak?

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 7:49 AM
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By Sim Kwang Yang ( SKY )

Let me invite you on an imaginary journey into the future. What would Sarawak be like after our current Chief Minister Datuk Taib Mahmud is gone?

The question is not entirely irrelevant. Taib is 72 or 73 years old. He has had a bout of cancer. He may still outlive me, though I am only 61. You cannot tell about such things. One thing is certain: though Taib can be the CM of Sarawak for life, he cannot be CM forever.

Another thing is quite clear. He has no clear line of succession. So who can and will succeed him as the next Sarawak CM.

Sulaiman who?

People in Sarawak tell me that his son Sulaiman is being groomed to take over from him. The establishment of political dynasties is a norm in Malaysian politics.

We know little about the political mettle of this young gentleman, beyond the fact that he is a new MP and a deputy minister in the federal cabinet. It is an understatement to say that he has yet to make any political impact on Sarawak.

I only know that Sulaiman was eased out of the very important post of Executive Chairman of the Rashid Hussein Bank. The simple rhetoric is this: if he cannot even run a bank without reproach, how can he run a huge state like Sarawak?

How can he expect to keep in check the very discordant component parties of Sarawak Barisan Nasional? Would the senior Malay, Chinese, Dayak, and Melanau leaders just accept the top BN leadership so bestowed on an untried and unproven greenhorn?

Even if Taib ascends to the governorship of Sarawak to provide an umbrella for his son as the new CM; he cannot run the state government on a day to day basis. The son would have to stand on his own feet. Is he up to the task?

A stop-gap CM?

Another option for Taib is for another senior leader of the PBB to stand in as a stop gap measure as a transition CM, to warm the seat for Sulaiman, just as Goh Chok Tong did for Lee Sian Loong in Singapore. Would he choose Abang Jo or Alfred Jabu? Or even Awang Tengah?

Whoever is chosen as a stop-gap measure may just like the throne of the CM so much that he may claim it for his own forever. Don’t forget there is astronomical amount of patronage involved in that exalted office. This must be very much on Taib’s mind as he ponders over the question of succession.

We all know about the Malay/Melanau disaffection at the top level of the political elite. (At the bottom of the political food chain, the Malay and Melanau people are equally poor.) Abang Jo may be the deputy president in PBB, but his chance of promotion to the seat of the Sarawak top-dog does not look promising.

Here lies the real and present danger to the Sarawak Barisan Nasional.

Taib’s prowess

We are all aware of the political prowess of Taib Mahmud. He is a Machiavellian par excellence. He has braved many political storms head on in the past and has survived them all with greater strength than ever. To many opposition politicians, he is the very symbol of BN invincibility during any election.

He has also been the supreme master of the divide-and-rule tactic inside and outside the ruling circle. That is how he brought the Dayak leaders to their knees, removing the greatest threat to his hold on power.

In the past, he had announced the names of possible successors. Then he would watch carefully how these people behave. This is the tactic of “drawing the snakes from their holes”, the same tactic that Mao Tze Tung employed at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to purge rivals from within. The minute the snake emerged, its head is chopped off. Ling Piaw was the first such casualty.

Since then, Adenan Satem and Effendi Norwawi have been sidelined. Abang Abu Bakar has been exiled to the wilderness. (I must add that on the few occasions I have met these three gentlemen, they were very courteous and gracious towards me. Somehow, we are all Anak Sarawak.)

Taib – the last of Asian political Strongman

Taib has been in power since 1981; he has been in office for the past 28 years, the longest serving top Malaysian politician in our nation. In fact, if you look around the whole of Asia, nobody has been in power longer than Taib. He is the last of the typical Political Strongmen in Asia. Others like him, such as Suharto, Lee Kuan Yiew, Mahathir, and Marcos have all disappeared from the scene.

The trouble with the phenomenon of Political Strongman is always the problem of succession.

A Political Strongman will try to weaken possible threats within his ruling circle, so as to entrench his own top position. At the end of his long rule, when he is prepared to retire, or when he dies, not one leader from any one faction within his ruling circle can indeed fill his shoes. You get a succession crisis, and the ruling circle may plunge into a tussle for leadership. Only Lee Kuan Yiew could solve this problem by remaining as Mentor Minister and his son is truly qualified to run Singapore as their new PM.

I wish Taib Mahmud long life and good health.

But the minute he retires or dies in office, the Sarawak BN will have a leadership vacuum, possibly leading to an internal power struggle, the agitation of the powerful tectonic plates against one another in search of new alliances. I can already foresee the palace intrigues that are bound to play out behind the scene. There will be power brokers and political vultures galore. There will also be fierce horse-trading.

Will we fear the entry of UMNO into Sarawak?

UMNO is now fighting for their life in West Malaysia. They fear even fighting a by-election against PKR in Penanti! They are no longer the brand name that they used to be; they are just a sick lame duck that may not survive the next general election.

When that crisis brews upon Taib’s departure from the Sarawak scene, what kind of new possibilities will present themselves to the opposition parties and the people in Sarawak? Will there be cracks in the BN Great Wall of Sarawak for the lights of change to stream in and burst the entire Wall altogether?

You tell me.




  1. you people know nothing,my chief’s son is the best person for the post of CM.we iban are just unable to be CM yet,2020 maybe

    Comment by alfred dunhill of sarawak — April 25, 2009 @ 9:15 PM | Reply

  2. Has Taib ever blast Anwar in public? Has Anwar ever blast Taib in public? Despite what Jabu publicly curse Anwar in public, Anwar would always reply as ‘Saudara Jabu masih kawan saya’.
    What will Taib do?
    Taib will just bring Sarawak BN to merge with Pakatan Rakyat. Anwar will be PM while Taib will maintain the status quo: no meddling in Sarawak affairs by federal government.
    The Dayaks will remain barking about land issues.

    Comment by United States Of All-Borneo — April 22, 2009 @ 6:58 PM | Reply

  3. I’m convinced Taib did a deal with the Feds, when he came to power, to leave him to his own devices in Sarawak without interferences from Pen. Malaysia. In return, he would enrich the Fed personalities’ coffers in addition to his own. Could I be right?

    Comment by Ling — April 22, 2009 @ 6:35 PM | Reply

  4. A very insightful article, SKY. Very thought provoking as well as informative.

    One very important point to note is that Taib through his political strength has kept Umno out of Sarawak. The post-Taib era will see Umno trying to muscle in on Sarawak and there will be a period of political instability as this will be fiercely resisted by the local parties.

    The same thing happened in Sabah when Umno muscled in after Pairin’s defection from BN. But BN was strong at that time and weathered the storm. The same thing cannot be said of BN now as it is weak in the Peninsula and Sarawak and Sabah are the keys to its federal power.

    Time is of essence. If the post-Taib regime happens before the next G.E., it will make the job of snatching power from BN that much easier.

    Let’s hope for some divine intervention.

    Comment by Kenny — April 21, 2009 @ 12:45 PM | Reply

  5. Why lah you people so obsessed with Taib Mahmud. Nothing better kah?

    Or have we all become retards as a result of Taib Mahmud’s doing?

    Comment by Carol Keening — April 20, 2009 @ 10:08 PM | Reply

  6. SKY, TQ for your thrilling insights on Taib! You hit the nail on the head: there’s no successor!

    The political landscape in Sarawak is WORRYING as it is fraught with ambiguity and uncertainties against a backdrop of a weakened and non-confident UMNO. This and the on-going constitutional crisis in Perak and trouble brewing in Trengganu is not good omen for Malaysia.

    NOW THAT THE BN MEMBERS IN TRENGGANU ARE AGAINST THEIR CM, who by the way was selected by the Sultan himself, doesn’t this amount to treason, sedition, disrespect for the Sultan? The BN, UMNO and the UMNO hypocrites accuse Nizar of treason for daring to question the Sultan of Perak (who, together with the 5 Federal Court judges, by the way has lost respect). Are they not guilty of the same by defying the Sultan’s choice? I suppose they do CAN’T SEE THE BEAM in their own eyes while they unashamedly can SEE THE SPECK IN OTHERS’ EYES! WHAT HYPOCRITES!

    So it’s true then that UMNO stands for:

    U Mahitir No Otak or U Memang No Otak!

    Meritocracy is the way forward, NOT Malay Sumpremacy! Every citizen should have equal rights and opportunities! Hopefully, one need not have to wait tilL the after life for DIVINE justice before Almighty God!

    SKY, you are dead right:

    Comment by Ak Sarawak — April 20, 2009 @ 5:40 PM | Reply

  7. Taib is a consummate politician that much one must admit. He’s cunning and he reads the situation well. And he surely knows how to play the politicians in the BN well in what can be described as divide and rule. But his time is running out either by defeat or by death. His son is not his old man’s son for sure. Quite stupid if fact as far as playing politics is concerned. For God’s sake and for our sake, let’s hope he’ll never be the CM. The only thing he could do well probably is to hit women harder than other men. He’s bidding time for his old man to kick the bucket so that he can spend the family fortune on women.

    Comment by juni — April 20, 2009 @ 12:51 PM | Reply

  8. Taib will go for stop-gap CM by probably appointing Abg Jo. This is ostensibly to placate the Malays faction in the PBB, who naturally nurtured a wish to see a first Malay Sarawak CM. It will mean killing two birds with one stone. With Abg Jo warming the seat for 5 years or so, it will give the young Sulaiman to cut his teeth in the various portfolios in the government, just as Taib had done in his younger days. But the question is whether such plan can work out? There are already talk that the opposition is plotting the ouster of Taib and this is no idle boast, giving the immense unpopularity of this old fox among Sarawakian. That he is able to hold on to power is a testament to his consumate skill in playing out all his allies with the dangling of the carrot. Who can resist wealth?
    The opposition may claim they are corrupt-free, that’s because they are trying to topple a corrupt government, once they succeed, and given time, they too will in turn succumb to this temptation. This is reality, this is history repeating itself over and over again. In the meantime, let Taib worry himself sick thinking up a solution to prevent his ill-gotten wealth vanishing into thin air with the specter of opposition’s victory in the next state election.

    Comment by daboss — April 20, 2009 @ 12:01 PM | Reply

    • I can foresee the chaotic scrambling for political milage in the post Taib era.

      As what SKY wrote, would Abang Jo, if given the transitional CM post, be happy to let go after 5 years? I personally do not think so because who can resist such a lucrative position after enjoying 5 years as boss in Sarawak? Would he not do the same as Taib did, consolidating his position and remain so until his earthly time is up? I think this is what worries Taib because he cannot be sure that his successor, whoever he is, will pass the baton to his son.

      As opposition they will not be sleeping as well. The best opportunity to have a chance to be voted into office will be during this time.

      Whatever will happen is very difficult to predict. The direction which way will go depends very much on the sentiment of rakyat Sarawak when this happens.

      Comment by Hope — April 21, 2009 @ 10:26 AM | Reply

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